Friday, March 25, 2011

Sleepless in Skopje


“Hey everybody, I'm on no sleep; no sleep!”
--Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld, Season 8, Episode 8, “The Chicken Roaster”

I had my Mother-Teresa post in the queue for today, but after what happened last night, I couldn’t form the kind of coherent thoughts necessary to finish it off properly.  Instead I’ve decided to write a rambling report on the horrible episode of sleepus interruptus I just encountered.  I just hope I can put the sentences together—that’s how big of a fog I’m in today as a result.

Before I dive in, let me say this.  No one ever said hostel living is easy.  It definitely has its drawbacks from time to time.  In fact, throughout this journey I’ve been tucking away some anecdotes for later inclusion in a round-up post of hostel-nightmare situations.  I've tentatively called it, Strangers in the Night.

Tonight's dinner:  Tavce Gravce, a Macedonian bean dish.
I can put up with a lot when it comes to hostel living because, really, it’s the best deal around for a solo traveler.  My current hostel, for example, is about $11 per night, and that includes a substantial breakfast and a home-cooked Macedonian meal in the evening.  I enjoy the camaraderie and fun in meeting and getting to know other travelers and, in general, I find there’s really not all that much to complain about.

But then there was last night.

I had been sharing my 6-bed room with one other guy—the French one mentioned in the previous post—when a reserved, middle-aged man turned up late in the evening and was given a bed in the bunk adjacent to my mine.  He put his bags down, made up his bed, and left the room without saying a word.  A little odd, but fine.

Later, I was lounging on my bed, watching the latest episode of The Daily Show online, when the new guy reentered the room to turn in for the night.  Before I even knew what was happening, he had stripped down to his skivvies, and the next thing I knew, all I could see from where I sat on my bottom bunk was his fat, hairy belly hanging over his tighty-whities, coming my way.  I quickly turned my head as he scrambled up the ladder to his top bunk, half-naked not two feet from me.  It was definitely a sight I could have lived without, but what could I do? 

I went back to enjoying John Stewart’s interview with Richard Lewis when, seconds later, some thunderous noises started seeping into my ears right past my earbuds.  This guy had apparently fallen asleep immediately after hitting the pillow, and commenced to snoring up a storm. 

Of course, after staying in dozens of hostels, this was not the first time I’ve shared a room with a snorer.  In fact, I sometimes snore a little myself (lightly, or so I’ve been told), so naturally I don’t fault other people for something over which they have little control.  I’m particularly fortunate in the shared-hostel department because I can sleep through just about anything (including, once, an actual hurricane, in Florida).  I also pack high-decibel canceling earplugs for backup.

I managed to fall asleep through the initial snoring, but it wasn’t long before I awoke to something the likes of which I have never before heard in all my life.  In short, it was a cacophonous mix of pig snorts, cartoon whistles, wild animal grunts, and wheezes, with the occasional lawnmower-start thrown in every now and again.  For a minute I thought I was dreaming—the noises were so over-the-top and out of this world. 

The bigger problem was the volume.  This is a small room and the guy was lying no more than four feet from me.  Imagine the loudest snorer you know, and then multiply the sound by about fifty.  That’s how loud this snoring was.  My earplugs were useless against the onslaught.

For a while I just lay in disbelief, listening.  Every so often the horrible noise would stop, and for a few teasing moments I thought it might be the end.  But then it would start right up again, and sometimes even louder than before.

Soon my head was pounding with extreme irritation.  I want to kill this guy, I thought, colloquially-speaking, of course.  And I wasn’t the only one apparently.  The French guy had been tossing and turning in his bed as well, and every so often he would emit a frustrated sigh followed by angry mumbling; some foreign profanities perhaps.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I collected my pillow, blanket, and laptop and retreated to the common room for some peace.  I shut the door to the room and also the door at the end of the quite-lengthy hallway that separates the dorm room from the common room.  I took up residence on the couch, which unfortunately was quite hard and too short for getting good sleep.  And worse:  even with all the distance and door-shutting, I could still hear the guy sawing away.

The uncomfortable couch in the common room.

Now, before I go on, I just want to say that I’m not the murdering kind, and certainly I would never kill anyone over snoring.   I am, however, a curious person, and once I get to wondering about something, I can’t sleep (literally) until I look up the answer.  So I opened my computer and typed the question I was thinking in my head into Google:

Do people ever get killed over snoring? 

Sure enough, an article from The Huffington Post popped up, entitled “College Student Says He Killed Roommate Over Snoring.”  The story, out of Beijing, began: “Chinese college student fed up with his roommate’s snoring, has confessed to stabbing him to death in the middle of the night.”  That’s terrible, I thought, as I scrolled down to check out the comments beneath the article.

Some anonymous person had asked, “Ever heard of ear plugs, dude?” to which, further up the chain, someone responded, “Earplugs are useless against loud snoring!  But, a CPAP machine would be much better than murder.” 

Well, obviously. 

Another commenter inquired, “Did the kid think he was John Wesley Hardin?”  I didn’t get the reference, because I didn’t know who John Wesley Hardin is, or was.  But since I was up, I figured now was as good a time as any to find out.  According to Wikipedia, John Wesley Hardin was an outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West, who went to prison in 1878 for killing a bunch of people.  One of these people, it is said, was a stranger who was keeping Hardin up with his snoring in the next room at the American House Hotel.  Hardin supposedly fired shots through the bedroom wall and silenced the snoring man for good.

The wee hours of the morning rolled on, and I continued to pass the time with more general articles about snoring: its causes; its dangers; its prevention.   I found one particularly relevant article posted on a Canadian-based backpackers’ website called “7 Tips for Sleeping Through Hostel Snoring.”  Of course the use of earplugs was encouraged, as was the consumption of drugs and alcohol for the purpose of sleep inducement.  I had access to neither at the moment.  The article also suggested potential noises one could make to stop a person’s snoring, including clapping, whistling, or—and I’m not making this up—the clicking of the tongue. 

Number 6 on the list of tips was titled, “Roll Them.”  More specifically, it advised:  “If you are comfortable enough touching people you don’t know in their sleep . . . try rolling them on their side.  Apparently snoring is more likely to happen when sleeping on your back.”

I knew my guy was sleeping on his back, but there was no way I was going to go in the room and touch the guy, or click my tongue at him, for that matter.  Just the thought of going near him got me to worrying about the damning internet searches I had performed in the next room.  What if something did happen to this guy—like what if the French guy were to snap, or the man just stopped breathing on his own?  One look at my search history with stories of murderous anti-snoring rampages, and no one would ever believe it wasn’t me.  I swear, I had nothing to do with it!!  I could hear myself yelling, from inside my Macedonia jail cell.

And just to be clear for the strangers reading, I wasn't actually wishing death on the guy.  I just wanted to get some sleep.

I turned off my computer and spent the next hour or so in fitful bouts of half-sleep on the couch.  At one point I realized that things had quieted down in the other room, so I gathered up my things and returned to my bed.  The man was still snoring, but now at a level that earplugs could effectively drown.  I put them in and eventually got some sleep.

I woke up early this morning to the sound of the man zipping his pants.  (Seriously.)  One of my earplugs had fallen out, and now I could hear the man putting his clothes back on and gathering his things.  I peeked over and watched him remove his pillow from its case, and that’s when I let out a big sigh of relief.  In the world of hostel living, I knew that meant he would be checking out.

The French guy doesn’t speak English, but we didn’t need words to commiserate this morning.  Instead we just looked at each other with matching bags and dark circles under our eyes, and shook our heads with disgusted exhaustion.   He left too, and now I have two Korean roommates; both females, both very quiet thus far.  And thank goodness, because now I really need to catch up on some z's.